Trade demo HQ raided by police

Washington is girding itself for trouble as the city prepares for large-scale demonstrations today aimed at the IMF and World Bank.

Police raided the demonstrators' headquarters or "convergence centre" and closed it down early yesterday, arguing that the structure was dangerous. "We're simply concerned about their safety, and we want to make sure there are no fire hazards,'' District of Columbia Police Chief Charles Ramsey said. But most protesters saw the move as aimed at disrupting the protests.

"The police will be as gentle or forceful as we need to be with the demonstrators," said Chief Ramsey. "But at the same time, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have a constitutional right to meet."

The protests come as the world's finance ministers and central bankers descend on Washington for the spring meetings of the two organisations. Their critics claim that both have caused huge damage to developing countries through their policies of financial austerity. "We like to liken the IMF to ... a medieval doctor who only has one cure, which is to put a leech on the country and drain it,'' said John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Demostrators went to visit James Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank early yesterday morning. They sang and held signs saying, "Wake up Wolfensohn" and "Wake Up World Bank," having apparently hoped to catch him in his pyjamas, but he was already on his way to work. "Good morning. Well, thank you very much. You got up very early," he said as he left in his car.

Local businesses around the IMF and World Bank were boarding windows and making plans to stay closed on Monday, set to be the second day of protests.